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Inspiring Conversations with Lisa A. Spells

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa A. Spells.

Hi Lisa, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
My story began in the early 1960s while attending a segregated Ford Green Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee. I was enrolled in music band classes as a flute student with teacher Andy Goodrich. A new string music education was the buzz and Robert ‘Bob’ Holmes was the initiator of the potential program. The excitement was quickly dashed when Mr. Holmes asked the Nashville School Board to teach string music in segregated public schools. He was told, “Black children don’t have the aptitude to play string music,” and denied the program.

Robert ‘Bob’ Holmes was not deterred, contacted other educators, community leaders, professionals, and others who willingly supported the program without including the Nashville School System. I was one of his string music students along with many others. Our parents provided instruments, music, stands, uniforms, music, other necessary equipment, and supplies, as well as, their time and commitment for the success of the program.

Word of the community-based, African-American/Black, string program opened many doors including universities, television, radio, businesses, etc. Local, multi-state, and international performances. Composer-arranger-performer had one of the most productive careers in the field of the music business. His arranging talents have been employed by many of the top recording personalities from gospel to jazz to rock to country to classical.

Robert ‘Bob’ Holmes organized the original Cremona String Ensemble in the 1960s, comprised of school-aged, African-American children to whom he provided music instruction, performance skills, and mentoring. He and W. O. Smith (Tennessee State University -TSU) formed an allegiance to building a new string music program at the university. I had the opportunity to participate in the newly formed string music program prior to completing high school. Further, I served as a member of the Nashville Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Fast forward… I have been a musician (vocal, flute, and viola) since the 3rd grade. Music has afforded me the opportunity to tap into the other significant careers in my current life: K-12 Teacher Certification; Certified/Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist; TN Supreme Court Rule 31 Family Mediator; Legal Issues Management Consultant; Political Consultant; Tennessee American Speech-Language Association 2009-2011 Representative; United States Delegate for Law and Economic to Japan & Russia; Performing Artist (viola, flute, and vocal); Founder of Health & Arts, Scholarship, and String Music Education Programs; Daughter, sister, and friend.

In 2001, I returned to Nashville, Tennessee, and discovered that the Metro Nashville Davidson County Schools were diminishing arts, especially string music, programs. I realized that most African-Americans receiving string music education classes could not afford private lessons; therefore, denied access to a medium that improves holistic education and future employment.

Several members of the original Cremona Strings were concerned that the legacy of Robert ‘Bob’ Holmes was getting eliminated from history; therefore, I founded the Cremona Strings Ensemble Too (CSET) in 2005. CSET artists continue to provide diverse music performance pleasures for “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” health and arts program events, health care facilities, public/private business, weddings, celebrations, organizations, art galleries, political events, parties, and other venues or individuals.

Our string musicians provide classical, gospel/spiritual, jazz, blues, folk, and other genres of music for all ages and cultures without discrimination. Reservations for large and small events are accepted six weeks prior to the scheduled activities. Our string ensemble travels locally, statewide, and/or internationally.

I founded the Cremona Strings Ensemble Too and Development Group, Inc., 501(c)(3) a non-profit organization, free, holistic string music education program to afford access and opportunity to participants four years and older who financially cannot pay for private lessons. All instruments, music, equipment, and supplies are provided. Music lessons venues are provided by our Metro Nashville Parks & Recreation and Music Makers Stage at Delgado Guitars partners every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon. Open enrollment is every January.

I believe that music opens doors to academic, community, family, and employment opportunities. Also, research has found that physical, mental, emotional health, safety, and welfare are enhanced by those who participate in arts-based programs.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Life is filled with challenges and I continue to take the good with the bad gracefully. Can you imagine starting a program and promising that each student will receive expensive, yet free to them, instruments, music, equipment, and supplies? What about offering a program without designated venue space? Let’s not forget fundraising, staffing, networking, marketing, etc., to gain trust, support, commitment, and assistance for our unique program.

Time has proved to open doors and provide for all needs since our inception in 2011. Health mandates creating online lesson performances, fundraising, social distancing, masking, and venue safety continue to challenge our program, students, families, and communities. Oddly, student enrollment continues to surge, venues available, and commitment by partners/sponsors keep our program alive and well.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
CSET NP was founded in December 2011 by Lisa A. Spells and Michael M. Brady (cellist). The mission is to improve Tennessee string music performing arts communities by providing holistic education, training, consultations, and advocacy to under-served, under-represented, culturally diverse, children, youth, teens, adults, and/or seniors without discrimination.

The Cremona Strings Ensemble Too and Development Group, Inc. A non-profit organization was founded via Tennessee Charter in December 2011 to provide affordable string lessons, rehearsals, training, education, performances, consultations, and advocacy for children and adults.
We continue offering a free string music education program in partnership with Metropolitan Nashville Parks and Recreation, as well as, Music Makers Stage at Delgado Guitar. Lessons are held every Saturday morning from 8:00 a.m. until approximately 12:00 noon for concert preparation. Enrollment is open for new students, ages four years and older, with their parents during January annually.

The Cremona Strings Ensemble Too and Development Group, Inc. [CSET NP], Non-Profit Organization was chartered in 2011 to honor Robert ‘Bob’ Holmes’ unique method of teaching students violin, viola, cello, and bass instruments. String lessons began March 2012 with students participating in concerts at “Laughter is the Best Medicine” Health and Arts Program 9th through 12th Annual December Galas, as well as, public school settings, the American Cancer Society Memorial Hope Lodge, Arts at the Airport, Nashville Public Library, Cheek wood in Bloom, TN State Fairgrounds, Home Depot Stores, Juvenile Detention Center, TSU Performing Arts Center CAMA Holiday Concert, Hard Rock Café’, TN State Museum, Walmart Stores, Delgado Guitar & Studio Americana Festival, and other locations from March through December. Our students, parents, and guardians have also attended Nashville Symphony Concerts, TPAC Look-In Events, DeMeo’s Luthier Instrument Woodwork Craft Shop Seminars, Singer/Songwriter Kata Rhe Crutcher’s Fiddle or Violin Lessons, and other educational activities to provide holistic learning experiences.

Our students have successfully auditioned for the Nashville Symphony Accelerando Orchestra, Blair School of Music Your Orchestra, Vanderbilt Reparatory Orchestra, and other competitive musical groups. Some CSET NP students have also received grant support from the Black Violins Foundation.
Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
Happiness is sharing time with family and friends; attending art activities/events; preparing and consuming great cuisines and beverages; performing and teaching music; outdoors activities; caring for others, and peaceful environments.

My physical, mental, emotional health, safety, and welfare soar when the aforementioned activities and environments are presented.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Cameala Bass Photography, Christina Callaway, and Lisa A. Spells

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